Why Pringles Will Always Taste Like Luxury to Me
Photos via Flickr users Paul K and Like_the_Grand_Canyon. Composite by MUNCHIES Staff. 


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Why Pringles Will Always Taste Like Luxury to Me

As a kid growing up in ’90s Mumbai, Pringles were Rich People Food: irresistibly delicious and a needless extravagance.

It was a long way to have travelled—4,049 miles to be exact—to meet a childhood memory. But there it was, standing neatly on the counter at an Italian cafe, the unmistakable red of a Pringles Original tube.

Hello, old friend.

I was sitting by the window of a deli in Rimini, a sunswept city somewhere in northern Italy, about to bite into the most delicious sandwich in the world. I had ambled in a little while ago, after a morning at the beach, tan and sand-streaked and ravenous, only to find they had run out of almost everything. But the friendly proprietaria, patiently bearing my half-baked Italian, grinned and put away her newspaper. “Aspetti!” she called out, briefly disappearing into the back of the cafe, and emerging with a plate of fresh mozzarella. That, plus luscious slices of tomato, some basil, and a drizzle of aceto balsamico resulted in a simple Caprese sandwich that I almost additionally seasoned with tears of delight.


I remember that afternoon—spent watching the usually bustling street outside fall into a gentle siesta—as one of my starkest experiences of pure contentment. I had wanted to be here for a very long time, and had saved my meagre newbie journalist salary for months until the flight ticket, and the trip of my dreams, were within reach. This vacation marked many firsts: my first-ever trip outside of India, the first time I travelled solo, and the first time I felt truly free.

And powerful. And uncommonly, deliciously luxurious.

It was fitting that it would also be the day I’d buy Pringles for the first time because for most of my 25-year-old life thus far, luxury and longing had tasted exactly like a plain salted American potato chip, sold in a tube-shaped can.


I was about eight when I first ate Pringles, then able to stick my whole greedy fist into the can. I only ever ate them during the winter holidays in the mid-90s, at my grandparents’ place in suburban Mumbai, when my maternal uncle returned from the US for his annual trip home. The Pringles arrived deep in the recesses of his trusty old Samsonite suitcase, nestled among giant bottles of Dove shampoo, bags of M&M’s and Snickers and Hershey’s Kisses, fluffy towels, handheld Tetris games, and perhaps an impossibly shiny miniature car set. When mama (uncle) opened up the biggest suitcase to hand out the gifts—all of us cousins impatiently crowding around him—there also seemed to escape from it the smell of America. That delicious, foreign, fabric-softener smell that I associated with plenty and prosperity and the possibility of being able to eat fistfuls of Pringles any time you wanted.


They were what I prized most from the haul. Unlike the massive bags of assorted chocolates that my siblings preferred, you could eat an unlimited amount of the chips and never feel slightly nauseated. Or so it seemed to me. We had to share, alas, so I’d sneak into the kitchen in the afternoons when everybody would be gently snoring through their food comas. Very, very quietly, I’d steal more than my fair share out of the neat rows of red in the cabinet. The others could have all the Snickers, I justified to myself. I hated Snickers. My favourite thing to do was to make a two-inch stack of the Pringles, and try to bite into the whole thing like a cake. Or crush them up and sprinkle over my dhal and rice for added crunch.

My favourite thing to do was to make a two-inch stack of the Pringles, and try to bite into the whole thing like a cake.

I was obsessed with Pringles. Despite all the local varieties of chips on offer, as well as the literal dozens of crispy fried snacks that Mum bought from door-to-door vendors— mirgunda, kuradya, saandge, and chikodya that puffed up like a gossamer skirt when dunked in hot oil—nothing tasted as good as the Original-flavour Pringles, sitting daintily in their tubes. They weren’t liberally doused in masala that would stain your fingers and despite my usual fondness for licking the spicy chip-dust off, eight-year-old me found the plain salted immensely classy.


It remained an annual indulgence though—maybe a fortnight of Pringles at most, until mama’s next trip rolled around. They were an expensive snack for middle-class Indians in the 1990s, the decade following India’s economic liberalisation in 1991. Foreign brands had slowly begun making their way in: Coca Cola, Sony, the Adidas-Reebok-Nike holy trinity, even McDonald’s.

The golden arches weren’t the purveyor of greasy hangover food and bad decisions then, but a place that was just so fancy and shiny in its yellow-red capitalist glory. There were the big play areas and the ketchup and mustard dispensers and the collect-em-all mania that the Happy Meals’ toys set off, and of course, the Indianised McAloo Tikki and Maharaja Mac burgers (no beef, please and thank you). I remember the first time we went—in dad’s white Fiat, and it had taken us forever to find parking, but my younger sister and I were so excited. It was an event going to McDonald’s, the way it was visiting the first neighbourhood supermarket (they had a grand opening which involved a clown), or even buying Archie comics. A friend had a cupboard packed with Double Digests, gifted by a US-based cousin. Each was carefully covered in clear plastic, and I equal parts hated her and wanted to be her best friend for the unlimited borrowing privileges.

Because at over 50 rupees a pop, if my fast-fading memory serves me right, any more than two Archie comics in a few months was considered rather extravagant for a kid. “Ugich kashala?” the folks would say. Why unnecessarily? It was the patent phrase that met most of my hankerings for foreign goodies. “Buy Tinkle,” Mum would gently admonish, referring to the local comic book brand. “Or go to the library. Isn’t that why we got you a membership card, hmm?”


She had a point. Because though foreign brands—shoes, clothing, electronics, food—had been making their way into Indian stores, they still cost a premium.

It was the same with Pringles. Why buy those, when there were a dozen cheaper local brands? Ruffles, or Lay's as it was renamed later, offered way more varieties. Why Pringles? Ugich kashala?

So I, like most of my peers, had to wait for annual trips by relatives who visited, or lived in, a foreign country. And like it has happened at some point all over the world, these products—banal and everyday in their home country—became cultural currency in another. A slowly savoured Toblerone occupying pride of place in the fridge, the box of Crayola crayons which that one kid in class used, the much-coveted Sony Walkman—they were all status symbols. They were a sign that your family had someone who lived abroad and was therefore more worldly than you.

“I remember when the Kit Kat ads first aired in India, probably during the 1996 World Cup,” recalls my friend and fellow ‘90s kid Suprateek. “They had this whole thing about how to eat them—you take off the wrapper, you run your nail alongside the groove under the foil, so that it parts neatly away from the bar—I hadn’t even thought of that method! And I was like, ‘Shit, I have been eating them wrong this whole time.’”

As Cartoon Network (switching to TNT at 9 PM, alas) hypnotised a new generation, dial-up internet entered more homes, and homegrown brands like Gold Spot, Premier Padmini, and HMT slowly began dying out, India acquired a new set of markers for aspirational cool.


Eventually, there came a point when mama stopped bringing Pringles because they were no longer so inaccessible. They had even made their way to Ruchi, our trusty neighbourhood store that one summer, decided it needed to catch up. After a furious round of renovations, it was bigger and fancier, and now stocked everything from Doritos and three kinds of Pringles, to Hershey’s chocolate syrup and Ferrero Rochers.

Even when I began earning, and could very well go into a store and just buy myself a tin. I never did.

Mum began buying us the expensive chocolate syrup, to stir into cold milk for hot summer afternoons, but I had long stopped asking for Pringles. I had no idea what they even cost, assuming them to be unbelievably, crushingly expensive. I thought of them every time we went to the store and every time, I reached for the local brand instead.

Even when I began earning, and could very well go into a store and just buy myself a tin. I never did. I knew they cost many times what a packet of Lay's did and it all seemed so wasteful, so unnecessary. To me, they represented Rich People Food; that singular can of chips assumed mythic proportions. Through a craving nurtured through childhood, they became both an irresistibly delicious gateway to the bright, shiny life, and a needless extravagance, perfectly replaceable by less expensive brands. Pringles had grown into something I had to earn, something I deserved only when I was a richer, more successful person.


I didn’t eat a Pringles chip for over ten years.

School finished, so did college, and soon, I was at my first journalism internship, and then a proper salaried job. There were boyfriends, and heartbreaks; some drifting away from school and college friendships happened, as did finding ones that fit me better. I hoped that someday I’d have the life I had always wished for, even the smallest sliver of it—bursting with the unnecessarily extravagant, perhaps packaged in a bright red tin.


That afternoon in the Italian cafe, I was rather surprised to find the Pringles cost only about a couple of euros. Not cheap exactly, but bizarrely affordable for me. I bought a tin and took it back to my spot by the window. My half-eaten sandwich lay there from when I had abandoned it at the sight of them. And well, without needlessly dragging this out any more than I already have, I opened the tin and ate a chip.

It was OK.

Not as crunchy as I had expected, and kinda … bland. I ate a few more. Honestly? They were perfectly fine. But just like pretty much everything else in life, they didn’t taste nearly as good as the memory of them.

I slowly finished the whole tin, putting a few inside my sandwich, and went back to watching the street outside, which was slowly filling with the evening’s sounds. It took me a while to realise why, at a time when I should have been crushed with disappointment, I was actually smiling.

It was because I had somehow managed to make my way into a life where Pringles were finally ordinary, and I was very, very grateful for that.